I definitely wouldn’t look at Kat‘s home and think to myself “I’ll bet they did all this debt-free!” No, that would not be my first, second, or even tenth thought. Because there’s so much else to think about in this tour! Like the rustic kitchen island or that gorgeous countertop, the ceiling in the nursery and that insanely lush carpet, the leather couch that looks like it was plucked from a London pub…I could go on. Wait! One more: her master bedroom and bath was once a two-car garage.
But back to the debt-free part. Yes, the renovations and decorating took far longer than if they had sped along their wish list and borrowed the funds and bought new. But where would the fun be in that? Friends, I hope you’re inspired by Kat today. (I know I’m off to check Craigslist!)
Q: Tell us about this family of BOYS!
A: It’s true…we have three little guys who are our world: Ryder (6), Bryce (4), and Finn (18 months). Plus there’s Mitch, my better half, whom I met in high school. We went to college together too, but were just buds then. We didn’t start dating until after we graduated. We’ve been married almost nine years! And I’m Kat, the momma of this all-boy household.
Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?
A: We live in Lancaster County, PA, in a little white rancher. From the first time we saw our no-frills little box of a house, we knew it had potential. Mitch bought the house before we were engaged, but I put my touch on it right away by picking out crazy paint colors and going to town. We literally had a yellow kitchen, red living room, bright green bathroom and a purple spare bedroom; I cringe when I think about it.
Right from the get-go we ripped up carpet, painted, scraped off wallpaper border, and did pretty much whatever we needed to make this house more us. We weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to our little two bedroom rancher.
As time went on and babies started making their appearances, we knew we had to do something…we were quickly running out of room. Our bathroom, which didn’t even have a bathtub in it, wasn’t going to cut it for much longer.
The first thing we did to make our house larger was to finish our basement. It’s so nice to have another space in which to relax, watch movies, play together, or simply send the boys to get out of my hair for a bit. Then about three years ago, we decided to make our house even larger by converting our attached two-car garage into a master bedroom/bathroom, mud/laundry room, and dining area. We did this by tearing down a wall that separated the two spaces and opening our kitchen up to that space.
At that time, we decided to redo our kitchen – since everything else was a mess, why not? And now we have a three bedroom/two bath house with a lot more living space. Every room in our little house has undergone a transformation (some more than one), and we’re really proud of all the work and character that went into those remodels.
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: Both Mitch and I have very fond memories of our childhood towns in which we grew up, hence the name of our blog, Maple Leaves & Sycamore Trees: Maple Leaves because Mitch grew up in Alberta, Canada, and Sycamore Trees after the street on which I grew up in a small town in South Jersey. I always pictured raising a family in a small town, but alas, we’re in the country and are loving raising our boys here.
We have so many different farms that we frequent. We buy our milk from a farm that is literally right down the road. There’s a cheese farm where our favorite cheese is made. I even have an “upholstery farm” where I’m currently getting two chairs reupholstered. I can’t forget about the “paint farm” where I recently bought two gallons of paint to redo our family room. Even our kitchen cabinets were made by a local farmer. These farms are literally just that – farms that have side businesses. And the farmers are local Mennonites that do great work and are really affordable.
Lancaster County is the home of the roadside stand, where you can find local in-season produce, local honey, fresh-cut flowers, and even baked goods (shoe-fly pie, anybody?). I’m so thankful that I can feed my family fresh, local homegrown food. There’s also a lot of discount grocery stores here where I can get good organic foods at a serious discount. I just bought organic grass-fed chicken for 99 cents a pound!
Plus, it’s just beautiful here. A country sunset is hard to beat. We have horses and buggies that go past our house every day. The view out our master bedroom is just stunning.
Q: Your home underwent serious renovations. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?
A: Probably the hardest part of our renovation when we converted our garage into living space was the amount of time it took us to complete it. Because we did all the work ourselves with help from friends, we had to rely on evenings and weekends to chip away at it. It wasn’t an easy task, especially with two little boys at the time vying for our attention as well. We would let Ryder and Bryce “help” when they wanted to, and would have several breaks that we took from it to focus on family.
Obviously the funnest part was when everything was done. It’s so fulfilling looking around a room knowing that you did the work and that it actually looks good! The toilet actually flushes, the pipes aren’t leaking, and the lights go on when you flick the switch. Mitch learned a lot through the whole process. Prior to the remodel, he really didn’t know the first thing about electric, pluming, etc., but now he can lay pipes, wire lighting, and tile like nobody’s business. If he didn’t know how to do a particular thing, he’d ask a friend to show him or he would look it up on YouTube. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching videos!
Q: What was the one design element at you wanted to be sure your family home included after the renovations, as it relates to living well with your kids?
A: Well, the biggest thing we wanted to include was a bathtub. It’s not all that practical to bathe a kid in the kitchen sink – after a while it kinda gets tight in there! – or in the shower. So we definitely wanted a nice big tub for not only the kids, but for Momma too! That was one of the first purchases we made; we found a garden tub on Craigslist and snatched it up.
Q: You mentioned that most of the renovations in your home were completed debt-free. Tell us your secrets to staying within a budget.
A: I mentioned that we found our bathtub on Craigslist. That’s pretty much where we would turn to when we needed something. We found our toilet (yes, our toilet), bathroom vanity, kitchen island, and a ton of smaller things like the Moravian star pendant light that’s over our tub on Craigslist.
We even found things on Craigslist that we didn’t necessarily need. For example, one day I was checking out the free section and noticed that someone was tearing down a barn and all the wood was being given away. “Just come and take what you want,” the ad said. So Mitch and a couple of his buddies went and filled a truck bed with barn wood that we then used on the ceiling of our stairwell.
At the same time, Mitch discovered a huge piece of slate in the barn. He told his buddies, “I gotta get this for my wife…she’d LOVE it!” So they hauled the slate onto the truck bed as well and later Mitch made a frame for it and it’s now on our dining room wall. The boys enjoy doodling and I love being able to write Bible verses on it. And you can’t beat free, right?
Craig is definitely our buddy and the first “person” we turned to when we needed something for our house. I’m also a big thrifter, so I found a lot of little things at thrift/antique stores in the area. I also hit up some outlets I found the chrome etagere that’s in our bathroom at the Restoration Hardware Outlet for $20.
People are always asking me, “How do you find these things?” I don’t know…I guess I’m at the right place at the right time? I thrift consistently – less these days since we don’t really need anything – so that helps to find some good stuff and I’m not afraid to take a chance on something. Things that people might totally pass over because it’s ugly, I’m more apt to see the potential in and buy and transform it. I did that to a funny-looking console table that I found at Goodwill. We chopped off part of the legs and upholstered it and turned it into the perfect-sized ottoman for our living room. So one little tip I like to give people – look for the potential in something that has otherwise seen better days.
Q: With three boys, do you find yourself gravitating toward more rugged, durable furnishings?
A: I’ve always loved a more masculine-looking room…there’s just something so not-fussy about that look. So we have a lot of antlers in our rooms as well as durable surfaces. I just had couch cushions recovered in kid-friendly outdoor fabric. Also, when Mitch made the top to our dining room table, he made it out of old barn wood that had lots of character in it so that the boys couldn’t really destroy it.
While planning out our master bedroom space, I definitely wanted it to be a mix of both his and hers. And I think I achieved that look. There are botanical prints on one wall and an Audubon bird print (which reads masculine to me) on another. Our wardrobes are a charcoal color but there are feminine touches in accessories like antique lamps, pillows, etc. It’s been fun collecting items over the years that I know will fit in with our style. Thankfully this momma doesn’t love pink, but I guess I get my feminine fix with flowers – I love having fresh-cut flowers on our table.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?
A: We have special nights where we camp in. This usually includes a movie, indoor s’mores, some singing around the campfire, and a sleepover in Mommy and Daddy’s room. We have an electric fireplace on our bedroom wall that we all snuggle around, lay out the blankets and pile on the pillows. I know that’s something the boys really enjoy and it’s something that we’ll look back at and reminisce about, I’m sure.
One thing that kind of surprised me about being a mom is that sometimes I can be really short with my boys. I’ve always loved being around little kids – I used to be a teacher and I loved my little fourth graders – but being a stay-at-home mom definitely has its challenges. There’s no break. I know that sounds like a “duh” statement, but parenting is a full-time job. On days that I just want the boys to play together nicely, they fight. Imagine that. Then I get frustrated. Being a parent isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes you gotta lay down the law and that’s not an easy task, especially when you’re sick of telling them for the 27th time that day, “Don’t hit your brother!” This too shall pass, I’ve been told.
I try to savor each stage of my boys’ childhood. Some stages are easier to enjoy than others (um…hello, terrible twos!) but I know their childhood is so short and before you know it they’ll be all grown up. So the more time we can spend together as a family, the better in my opinion.
Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?
A: It’s funny because we were just talking about that the other day. I was dreaming out loud about our forever home and both Ryder and Bryce said, “But I want to stay here. This is our home.” They love their little house, and I think that’s because Mitch and I (and them!) have put so much into it. Whenever we pull out of our driveway we all say, “Good bye, house!” so there’s already that attachment to this place that warms my heart. Playing in the yard, having a camp-out in the playhouse, breakfast on Saturdays together as a family – all these things! Family times are what I’m hoping they remember from their childhood home.
Great, now you’ve got me thinking I never want to leave!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: You can’t do it all. I think a lot of moms these days have so much pressure put on them to be Super Mom. Doesn’t take but two minutes perusing Pinterest that you soon see your inadequacies and start to feel insecure, telling yourself that you don’t measure up to the mom who apparently has it all together. Whether it be a squeaky-clean house, or having a hot meal on the table every evening, blogging, to staying in shape – I’ve realized that I can’t do it all without help.
I’m trying to focus my attention on what really matters: my family. Because at the end of the day, loving relationships are what count the most – not that we were able to juggle it all. I’m trying to live a less busy life and really enjoy the times we’re all together.
That being said, I need breaks too. Mitch and I really enjoy our time together going out on dates. We need that. I think every mom needs that. That time apart from my kids recharges those parental batteries and makes me refreshed and ready to go another round because, you know, this raising kids thing isn’t for the faint of heart. But I love it, am so thankful for my family, and wouldn’t change it for the world.
Yes, yes, yes to dates! Thank you, Kat, for the lovely reminder. I’m so proud of you for completing so much of your home (and so well, I might add!) on a budget. It’s inspiring.
Friends, could you ever tackle a renovation project like Kat and Mitch took on, or would it be worth a little debt to have it done by someone else on a much faster timeline? (I think I’m good with making tables and installing concrete floors and whitewashing bricks, but turning a garage into these lovely spaces? Not too sure!)